Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: GlenDronach "Original" 12 years Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Above is a picture of my favorite shoes.  They are old, beat up, worn, cracked, soft leather that fit perfectly.  My wife has delicately suggested I not wear them to work.  I think she would also rejoice if I decided to toss them out.  That will never happen.  I like them because they are so damn comfortable!

GlenDronach "Original" 12 year old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky is much like my old pair of shoes.  From the first sip I am put at ease.  Like renewing an old friendship after years of separation.  Just a matter of picking up from where you left things last. 

Nose (undiluted)
Very sherried. Not particularly elegant. Let’s hope it tastes more exceptional than what is presented on the nose.

Palate (undiluted)
Quite sherried. Lightly spiced. Rich, sweet, red fruits like strawberries and red currants. Very light peat. Medium bodied.

Finish (undiluted)
Some somewhat dry sherry, raisins and cloves linger a decent amount of time. Finally, there is a zing of burnt toast with strawberry jam and some rasberries. Oak is there too.  Not bad. Not bad at all.

Nose (diluted)
Addition of water makes the aromas less sherried and more floral. Maybe dandelions.

Palate (diluted)
More creamy. The sherried flavors still dominate, but less so.

Finish (diluted)
Flavors linger much less with water added. Sherry flavor still there but transitions to carmelized onions that usually fry up to go with your Saturday evening barbecue steak. A flavor that neither adds nor detracts to the over all tasting. In general, I prefer drinking this single malt without water.

Value for Money
Great low price!  At least where I live, this is probably one of the lowest priced 12 year old single malts.  It delivers rich flavor, red fruits, oak and some complexity of flavor.  A good choice for the scotch newbie and the tramp (that would be me).

General Impressions
When I first tasted GlenDronach, I regarded it as an average, middle of the road, girl next door, 12 year old single malt. Not bad, but not great. The flavor profile is straight forward . . . or so I thought.  A little complexity mid-palate when you taste the crunch of burnt toast and strawberry jam. But! Upon subsequent tastings it really started to grow on me and I started to unlock some complexity of flavor.

It’s smooth, tremendously easy drinking, coupled with a low price, makes it attractive.  No bite or bitterness on the palate. Easy to like. Not grainy and basically not offensive in any fashion. No towering peat and smoke either that is generally not a hit with the novice scotch fan. 

Over all, I am happy with this recent purchase. A very consistent taste from opening to the last drop.  This represents good value for money. When you just want a nice scotch while you watch the game or chill out in the backyard after a long day, this works well.  I wouldn’t pull this out for your scotch fan or the father-in-law you seek to impress. This is a “go-to” economy 12 year old single malt for the budget minded person seeking a decent single malt with a flavor profile that is familiar yet interesting.  Comfort food. That’s what this scotch is. Just like my old pair of shoes that I just can’t stand the thought of parting with.

Photo Credits:  Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.


  1. Hey Jason!

    Sitting with a dram of Glendronach in front of me as we speak. Well, this is most certainly a sherried whisky. Closer inspection of the tin reveals that it is aged in Pedro Ximenez and the obligatory Oloroso sherry casks, no surprise there. Rich, nutty nose; hints of banana, vanilla cake icing, and a sort of burnt caramel wafting upwards - "burnt caramel" being, of course, redundant - but it sounds impressive. Not an exceptionally complex nose, but there is no false advertising here.

    Palate fulfills the promise of the nose exactly, with no surprises. But unlike the Singleton of Glendullan, which tastes like 40% sherry, Glendronach is tempered by a bit of drying oak spice mid-palate. Not overly so, mind, like Strathisla, which gives one an acute case of cottonmouth; but rather providing enough balance to offset the natural overwhelming sweetness the sherry provides. Languid tendrils of smoke envelop the dram, giving it a weight and body that is immensely satisfying yet again is in perfect balance.

    Finish - After the oak does its song and dance, the dominant sherry resurges in a finish that is sweet, rich, and satisfying. Just the slightest hint of anise and citrus cleanse the palate, and prepare it for the next full dram. Lovely.

    Conclusions - This is not a dram that made me stare at the glass, mouth agape, in amazement, like what happened after my first sip of Ardbeg. Rather, it is a rich, immensely satisfying dram which delivers in full exactly what was promised by the nose, and no more - but that's plenty ok. This is a dram you can feel immediately comfortable with, and your analogy of the "old, comfortable shoes" fits perfectly. That said, the smoke, sherry, and slightest hint of tobacco at the very end of the finish suggests that this might be a good pairing with a favoured cigar among friends - or an evening alone in front of the firplace, a tome of Gibbon in hand. One wonders how much better this dram might be at 18 or even 21 years of age; I suspect "excellence".

    Anyway, this is my blurb about Glendronach. Great suggestion, and I probably wouldn't have bought it without your recommendation. It languishes, dusty, on the bottom shelves of our liquor store, and that's a shame.

    Take care, and I eagerly look forward to your next post!


  2. Great review Jason! I always enjoy reading your comments.
    When I first noticed this at the local liquor store, I was impressed not only with the price, also the fact that the package states: "Non chill filtered -natural colour".
    I did a bit of research, and liked what I read, so went ahead and got a bottle. I find that it is a lot of tastes, but not too much of anything, with just the right amount of bite to make it interesting. On the nights when I don't feel like a heavily peated and smokey scotch, like Lagavulin or a heavily sherried one with a lingering sherried sweetness, this is the one for me. Like you old shoes, it is a good friend who is always there and will never let me down. If I were not fortunate enough to be able to try many single malts and had to settle on one, this would probably be it!

  3. Yes, Carl, the ol' Glendronach is very comfortable. Comfort scotch when you just want a drink and dont want to think too much.

  4. According to the Whisky Exchange Blog, the Glendronach 12 actually doesn't contain 12 year old whisky. In fact the youngest whisky in the bottle is 15 years old (legally the label is correct since none of the whisky is younger than 12). This was due to the distillery being mothballed from 1996 to 2002 so the first whiskies distilled in 2002 are still not old enough. Why then did the distillery bother with a 12 year old? It's most likely the owners wanted a bottle and label ready for when the actual 12 year old comes of age.

    1. Eric, you are correct about the whiskies in the 12yr actually being 15 years. I also think you are correct that the label of 12 was used to establish the brand's particular age statement.

      I suspect that new releases of GlenDronach 12 will actually contain whiskies that are 12 years. Of course, the question will be: Is it still good?

    2. It will certainly taste different but I have faith in the new owners (who also run Benriach) to keep quality the same. And besides if I don't like the new 12 I can always move on the 15.

  5. Jason, We enjoyed the current release rather well last weekend following Whiskey Fest, and we were reminded just how good it can be. Priced $50 US in SoCal, it's a very rewading malt and a strong value, at least for my money. Today, both the Macallan 12 and Glenfiddich 15 run $40 and old standby Glenfarclas 12 is $50, but this is the one I reach for confidently to either enjoy alone or to share with the most jaded malt enthusiasts. Versatile.

  6. Hi JK,

    Yes, GlenDronach 12 is a very strong performer in its category (12 age stmt) and it is nice to see the distillery has been able to follow up year to year with good releases of this bottling. When it was first reintroduced a couple of years ago, a lot of the malt in the 12 year was actually 15yrs.

    Unlike you, I am not a huge fan of the Glenfarclas line (except for the 17).

  7. While still a neophyte, I've more or less come to the conclusion that I'm a peated Islay guy. Based partially on your review, I picked up a bottle of this to try something a bit different at a reasonable price. I have to say I REALLY wasn't prepared for how sherried it was, and the first tasting wasn't very enjoyable. On a second tasting, however, it opened up for me and was an extremely pleasant change of pace! Thanks again for the excellent blog!

    1. Hi Walrus!

      The GlenDronach is very sherried, as you know over the top sherried. Hell, it makes The Macallan 12 out to be a shrinking violet in comparison.

      Sometimes a bottle upon opening is rather "tight" and oxidation that takes place over a few days or a week settles down those wild and offensive flavors, which may be the case here.

      Another for you to consider is Highland Park 12. Big sherry but lots of interesting heather and peat mixed in. I plan to review it very soon as I picked up another bottle of that wonderful classic.


  8. Jason, We popped open a recently purchased GlenD 12y over the weekend and whoooosh ! It had quite a hit aromatically of the burning of the old sulphur stick. That's a stink that can hang on to wine barrels into the next usage following "disinfecting". It's a standard practice among winemakers and distillers to clean a barrel in this manner, but some barrels and some distillates seem more affected than others. Something to keep in mind when popping new bottles from this house (and Glenfarclas) particularly. JK

    1. Thanks JK.

      While I enjoy GlenDronach, I am not a huge fan of Glenfarclas, with the exception of the 17yr old. Other releases are obviously very sherried and little else.

  9. Hi Jason!
    Long time reader,first time writer.I'm kind of new to this SM world. I have to say that this 12yr old expression was the 40%abv. I know there is also a 43% abv out there. Is mine an older expression? I know that the 43% is also non-chilled filtered. I don't know if there is a considerable difference between the two, for me, this expression was very hard to swallow. Even after the second day, there was a burnt plastic taste to it. Hard to describe. Don't know if this is the sulfur they always talk about. It certainly is unpleasant. I don't know how some SM drinkers find this appealing. I do have to say, My brother and I were comparing it to The Glenfarclas 12 i had already opened. I have to say that the Glenfarclas was a lot more enjyable to drink. Smoother,creamier, sweeter,silkier. Just the way we like it.
    Thanks for your highly insightful reviews. Keep up the good work!

    Miami,FL USA

    1. Hi Rudy!

      The decision of drinks companies that own brands like GlenDronach, as to whether or not to fix ABV at 40% or 43% (if they offer that option) generally comes down to the particular market they are offering it in. So, in some parts of the world they distribute the 40%, and in others the 43%.

      The difference in taste is the higher ABV will obviously deliver a little more punch and therefore potentially a nice bit of complexity of flavors.

      There are a couple of possibilities as to what is going wrong with your bottle.

      (1) I do not think you have one of those bottles of a sherried Scotch whose contents taste has been corrupted by the use of sulphur candles or sulphur dioxide used to sterilize empty sherry casks before delivery to the distillery. Why? You describe the taste as burnt plastic. That would not be consistent with the sulphur notes or egg notes people complain of due to the above noted sterilization method.

      (2) You may actually have a flawed bottle that was somehow screwed up in production at the distillery. Alternatively, it could have been sitting in 100 degree heat in transport followed by frigid temperatures in a refrigerated trailer. Who knows. My brother once bought me a bottle of Royal Salute that was flawed. Really off, and flat in taste. I asked him where he got it and he explained that it was perched on top of a fridge in direct sunlight of a store for years when he decided to beat the vendor down on price and get it for me. All that heat I figure ruined the flavors.

      . . .

      Since you are relatively new to the single malt world, I certainly don't want you to be turned off by this experience. If like sherried Scotch whiskey, then start with some very gentle classics:

      Balvenie Doublewood 12 yrs - A really gentle, refined sherried malt that is incredibly smooth that appeals to the newbie as much as the old malt dogs (like me).

      The Macallan 12 years - Macallan 12 is being gradually phased out so if you want to try this great classic, ya better do it soon. Smooth, dream like sherry, elegant and always begs you to take another sip. Another great starting place in the exploration of sherried single malts. Price is high, but at this point, you want a positive experience, so spend a little extra and just cut out cable for a month!

      Hope this helps and look forward to more comments from you.


  10. Thanks for your prompt reply Jason.
    I have been keeping an eye on The Balvenie 12 double wood. Also the Balvenie Carebbean cask,since I've been a rum drinker for a long time. I'm from Puerto Rico and u know our love for rum. My journey of SM began with The Yamazaki 12,believe it or not. Loved it so much I went and got me the Yama 18-- Absolutely unbelievable best dram i've had by far! Any suggestions will be gladly appreciated.
    Miami, Fl. USA

  11. Read the following link about 12 Years

  12. That's a great link Michael about the minimum age of the GlenDronach 12. Helps explain some of the richness and complexity noted in Jason's review.

  13. Great review. Sounds just like what an old comfortable friend should be like. Managed to get an older bottling and tasting it in a day or 2. Really looking forward.